They say Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball. But in my visits, I’ve never found the arena (or its tenants) impressive. Back in the heyday of the NIT, which has been on 34th street for over half a century, Madison Square Garden was synonymous with marquee basketball. Add in competitive a Knicks with a strong Big East Tournament, and MSG surely was sacred.
Basketball has other religious sites now. Jordan made Chicago a place of pilgrimage. Kobe, Jackson, and the Lakers have made the Staples Center ring with power. 17 times Boston has shown the world why Celtic parquet is where greatness performs. Even young Oklahoma City has shown how new arenas can contend for basketball’s best environment.
Fortunately, New York has a new temple to basketball. Conceived in hip hop, manifest through shark real estate manuvers, and clad in a pre-rusted shell, the Barclays Center breathes new life in the City’s basketball culture. For New York City is the undisputed global capital of basketball, and it’s long needed a rebellious self-conflict to bring out it’s very best.
London, by my estimates, is the capital of world football. As both a historic hub and current site of the sport’s very best (let’s remember Chelsea are the current Champion’s League winners), the city thrives on having several (not one or two) world class clubs. Left to it’s own devices, London alone could entertain with it’s own civic football league. In the tension of a several cross-town “derby” matches, the city even produces narrative drama that outpace record or league position. No matter their current form, Tottenham and Arsenal will do anything to beat one another.
Now New York gains its own, unprecedented basketball rivalry. Where the Lakers – Clippers series disappoint, this match-up has the makings of something special. I sincerely hope that the league (or at least the Mayor) offer a tangible trophy for the inter-borough champions. It would sweeten the pot considerably.
The first visit
I took the ride out to Barclays on October 18 to see my Celtics in pre-season form. It was a conveniently excellent opportunity. Pre-season tickets were cheap, everyone wants to see the Barclays Center, and I haven’t seen Boston play live since the Antoine Walker era.
Coming above ground from the subway, one is pulled into the arena by its open “oculus.” This pinched LED screen wraps above the arena’s entry plaza like the eye of a hurricane. It focuses the crowd’s energy.
As display ads and game stats whirled overhead, I experienced the new sense of being in a public threshold space between transit systems, a coliseum, and the rest of the city. The space inverts the relationship a fan will soon have in the stadium. There, we will all be parts of the overhead whirl. Here, we are briefly the focus of the impending event’s energy.
The arena entrance is wide, high, and transparent. The actual arena floor is below street level, so staring straight ahead, the entrance only promises a peek into the scoreboard. Beneath fan feet, there is a private practice court for players, a private concierge for VIPs, and “turntable” for spinning delivery trucks around. Cool.
The interior of the stadium is actually rather weak. In the upper deck (where my ticket placed myself and a friend) the arrangement is odd. Protuding suites interrupt the stadium-in-the-round effect of conventional seating. The lights are drawn incredibly dim, so that’s nearly impossible to find your seat. There are too few escalators to the upper deck, and only an elevator game bring you down again during game play.
The House Hip Hop Built
Hip Hop is everywhere in the Barclays Center. The Nets entire rebranding has been steeped in the virtues (and vices) of New York’s signature urban music. Jay-Z tunes introduce the players. The Brooklyn Nettes dancers pulse to choreography lifted from Def Jam videos. Instead of a cheesy organist, key Net possessions and plays are underscored by a live DJ scratching up tunes and dropping heavy drumlines.
Jay-Z, the arena’s spiritual architect, has poured his creative soul into basketball recently. He is credited with designing the Nets new minimal black logos, and his merchandise team ensured that Brooklyn Nets gear name checks several Brooklyn Hip Hop acts. He also served as the executive producer of the NBA 2k13 video game. Because why not?
While Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Garnett blew out D. Williams and Joe Johnson, I snuck down to row of courtside seats with some co-workers. We sat close enough to the action, to see Garnett jaw with Brook Lopez, and Rondo throw his signature dribble fake.
We also saw Jadakiss.
I mean of course we did. This is the arena opened by Jay-Z to return Brooklyn its dignity and use the rebel attitude of hip hop to challenge MSG to get serious. Here’s hoping the so-called “Mecca” of basketball, and it’s celebrated tenants, play up to the challenge.